By Khalid Zerai
JALALABAD -- Twenty Taliban militants and one member of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) surrendered to authorities in Nangarhar Province amid accelerating efforts for lasting peace, according to local officials.
The National Directorate of Security (NDS) facilitated the militants' surrender and their joining of the peace process in Jalalabad on January 30.
The militants surrendered their weapons to local authorities and pledged to no longer fight against the Afghan government, saying that they regretted their past activities and would urge other militants to join the peace process and take part in rebuilding Afghanistan.
"These militants were involved in anti-government activities in Momand Dara and Lal Pura districts as well as in the Shinwar zone, and now they regret their past," said Habiba Kakar, deputy governor of Nangarhar Province, referring to an area occupied by the Shinwar tribe that includes Achin, Haska Mina, Nazian, Kot, Ghani Khel and Spinghar districts.
"They want to live a peaceful life," she told journalists at a ceremony marking the militants' surrender.
The number of militants joining the peace process is accelerating as the Afghan government, with support from US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, continues efforts towards peace with the Taliban, she said.
The Afghan government will forgive all Taliban who join the peace process, Kakar said, emphasising that the Taliban must prepare the way for inter-Afghan talks.
Qaribullah, one of the surrendering Taliban members, said he and his fellow fighters were encouraged by foreign entities to fight against the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF).
"We were naive," he told reporters. "We thought it was jihad, but slowly, slowly, we realised that this fighting is not jihad."
"We made contact with the NDS, and I came with these fellows," he said. "We want to live a normal life."
Qaribullah expressed regret over fighting the Afghan government and pledged that he and the other members of his group would take part in reconstruction efforts.
"The latest operations conducted by security forces in the six districts of the Shinwar zone and in Bati Kot, Momand Dara and Lal Pura districts killed a number of militants and induced others to join the peace process," As-Haab Wali Muslim, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, told reporters.
"We are proud of our security forces for providing us with security in the mountains and in rural areas," he said. "We are hopeful for the peace talks as well."
The ANDSF's operations in the region, in addition to the Afghan government's progress towards peace negotiations with the Taliban, have encouraged more militants to join the peace process in Nangarhar, Muslim said.
Religious scholar Mawlawi Habibullah Jalalabadi at the ceremony marking the militants' surrender called on the Taliban to surrender to the will of God and to accept peace, because peace is a blessing.
"The fighting in the country is illegitimate, and it is done with provocation from foreigners," he said. "The killing of innocent humans is the killing of all humanity."
How likely are the Taliban to hold direct peace talks with the Afghan government before presidential elections in July?